"The World and Japan" Database (Project Leader: TANAKA Akihiko)
Database of Japanese Politics and International Relations
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS); Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia (IASA), The University of Tokyo

[Title] Speech by the Prime Minister at the Meeting of Managing Editors of the Member Companies of Kyodo News

[Date] October 16, 2020
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional Translation
[Full text]

Thank you for the introduction. I am SUGA Yoshihide, Prime Minister of Japan. Kyodo News has generously invited me to give a speech on this occasion.

I was appointed as Prime Minister of Japan exactly one month ago today. When I entered the Prime Minister's Office this morning and was asked about my thoughts on the first month as Prime Minister, I answered as follows: I cannot really believe one month has already passed by. At the same time, I also stated that we must do everything that needs to be done without hesitation. We will move forward with a sense of urgency, starting from what can be done immediately, for example, lowering the fees for mobile phones. And, additional issues will emerge one after the other. I intend to steadily solve them one by one, never forgetting my starting point.

When I first announced my intention to stand in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election, I myself made various pledges. Among these, we must absolutely prevent the explosive spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and protect the lives and health of the public. On top of that, we will work to balance the prevention of the spread of infections and the resumption of socio-economic activities, because if we cannot achieve such a balance, Japan itself will be unable to move forward. While having faced the spread of COVID-19 infections, the April-June quarterly gross domestic product saw the largest decline in postwar history. We are in the midst of what could be truly described as a national crisis and, as Prime Minister, my greatest mission is to create an environment that will enable each and every person in Japan to return to the normal lives they enjoyed before with safety and peace of mind.

Soon after my appointment as Prime Minister, the Government gets to secure the capacity to conduct an average of 200,000 COVID-19 tests per day, ahead of the winter influenza period, which is equivalent to the number of influenza tests that are implemented daily during the influenza season. At the same time, we intend to build a structure that is capable of handling both influenza and coronaviruses, prioritize testing for the elderly and persons with underlying conditions, who face a high risk of developing severe symptoms.

Against this backdrop, it is also an indisputable fact that the economy remains in a severe situation.

In order to protect employment, I will continue to steadily implement measures such as the Sustainability Subsidies (Subsidy Program for Sustaining Businesses) up to 2 million yen per case, and interest-free unsecured loans up to 40 million yen per case.

In addition, we have launched the Go to Travel Campaign from this July. To date, the campaign has been used by a cumulative total of approximately 25 million people. Against this backdrop, only 20 or so—fewer than 30—have been found to be infected with COVID-19. This clearly shows that, if businesses take thorough countermeasures to protect users from the three Cs (closed spaces, crowded places, and close contact settings) and encourage people to wear masks, the risk of COVID-19 transmission during traveling or accommodation is extremely low. The figure of 27 infected persons, if I recall correctly, out of a total of 25 million users clearly shows this to be the case.

And, by preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus, I earnestly wish to hold the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games next summer, as proof that humanity has defeated COVID-19. I recently had a telephone talk with Mr. Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). I also had previously sat in on the telephone talk between Prime Minister Abe and President Bach and, I believe, the atmosphere of my latest telephone talk with him was completely different from the one that took place a while ago. President Bach expressed his strong determination to hold the Games, and I too would like more than anything to materialize that. I also wish to note here that it is a fact that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the Tokyo Organising Committee and the Government are working closely together and taking measures ahead of the Games.

Our fight against COVID-19 has revealed various issues, one of which is the delayed digitalization of administrative services and private sector practices. My Cabinet intends to expeditiously advance digitalization as the centerpiece of regulatory reforms and transform our society and economy, making this a turning point.

As a matter of fact, in June last year, we decided to start full-fledged use of the My Number card as a health insurance card in coming March, with the Basic Policy (on Economic and Fiscal Management and Reform). The Basic Policy of June last year also determined that the Government will ensure all residents have My Number Cards by two-and-a-half years from now. We intend to advance reforms by achieving these goals and making all administrative procedures possible to complete without physically visiting government offices.

These digital policies are, as you are all aware, vested to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC), Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), and the Cabinet Secretariat, respectively. The systems used by the ministries and agencies are varied and the systems used by local governments are different from each other. By getting rid of bureaucratic sectionalism, and unifying and standardizing local government systems within five years, we want to make administrative services available immediately in any municipality residents move to. We intend to advance the integration of the systems of the ministries and agencies as well as those of the local governments.

In order to advance these reforms, we intend to establish an agency in charge of digital transformation, which will possess a strong control tower function. To this end, I aim to compile a basic policy by the end of the year. My intention is to create an agency with an organization that attracts highly capable personnel regardless of whether they are from the public or private sector, and leads the digitalization of society as a whole. I want to materialize services that citizens commonly wish to have and create a society in which they can reap the benefits of digitalization.

Also, the Government is advancing the installation of optical fiber cables that will form the foundation for digitalization, as part of the supplementary budget compiled this summer. At the stage of budget formulation, I asked the amount of budget requested by MIC for the installation of optical fiber cables and it was 30 billion yen. With the COVID-19 crisis having revealed the delays in Japan's digitalization, I thought that it was necessary to install optical fiber cables nationwide. I therefore instructed the MIC to materialize that with this supplementary budget and to increase the amount to 50 billion yen, pointing out that, if communications infrastructure can reach all locations, including remote islands, it serves as the foundation for distance education and telemedicine, while making teleworking possible. It will allow us to install optic fiber cables to every corner of the nation in the next fiscal year. I also intend to create an environment that makes possible a lifestyle whereby you can live in rural areas while receiving services offered in urban spaces or live in urban spaces while maintaining a connection to rural areas, by advancing the establishment of satellite offices or "workcations."

I was born and raised until high school in Akita Prefecture. With this background, I believed, even when I served as Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications, that Japan will not have vitality unless its rural areas do. If you look at the total consumption of Japan, Tokyo and the three surrounding prefectures (Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama) account for only 30 percent. The other 70 percent is accounted for by other prefectures. Accordingly, without bringing back vitality to these areas, we cannot revitalize our nation's economy as a whole. Against this backdrop, I regard tourism and agricultural exports as two trump cards for regional revitalization. Ever since becoming Chief Cabinet Secretary under the second Abe administration, I have been taken the lead in the Government's efforts in these fields.

On a personal note, more than 30 years ago, I took the plunge into the world of politics without having any connection to the local community or anyone related by blood whatsoever. I became secretary to Mr. OKONOGI Hikosaburo, a Diet member elected from Yokohama. That was when I was 26 years old. When I was 38, I was first elected to Yokohama City Council. My experience campaigning for that election was the starting point in my career as a politician. At that time, my district was choosing two candidates and I stood as one and fought with two incumbents. My opponents ran campaigns against me saying that I was from the countryside and not home-grown, and that if I lost the election I would just go back to my hometown (in Akita). Against that, as part of my own campaign, I highlighted my Akita origins in large letters on all campaign posters and business cards. People from the Tohoku region, let alone people from Akita, who saw my campaign thought, "I'm from Tohoku too, so I'll support him." There were others who also thought, "I'm from the countryside too, so I'll give him my support." I was, in fact, able to widen my circle of support in that way. In the end, I was successfully elected and this underscored for me the reality that many people who move from the countryside of Japan to urban areas want to give back something to their hometowns where they were raised, or create some form of connections with hometowns where their parents still live. Despite the fact that I was 47 when I was first elected to the House of Representatives, my idea to create "hometown tax" actually dates back to that first election in Yokohama.

Municipalities across Japan spend approximately 16 million yen per child for education until high school, with a rational that children bear the future of the community. However, when they start working and pay taxes as adults, they are likely to live in urban areas. Therefore, for quite some time, the idea of a "hometown tax" was brewing in me, one that allows people to contribute in some fashion to their hometowns. When I was Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications, I established this "hometown tax" system.

However, I faced tremendous opposition from government officials and initially the system was designed in such a way that it would not be easily used. Until I became Chief Cabinet Secretary, the total amount paid through the "hometown tax" system did not even reach 10 billion yen a year. After my appointment as Chief Cabinet Secretary, I advocated that we wanted to make the "hometown tax" donation a one-stop process and raise the maximum amount of tax credit deductible to 20 percent of the amount of local income taxes. Initially, the number had been only 10 percent and it had been not possible to complete the relevant work with one stop. I therefore started to redesign the entire system, going back to the original goal that I intended. The result was that, while in the first five to six years the total amount of donations remained around 10 billion yen, it jumped to 40 billion yen. By making it a one-stop process and raising the maximum amount to 20 percent, more and more people started to use this system, with the figure rising from 170 billion yen, to 280, 370 and then 500 billion yen. I believe that this system has truly made a significant contribution to regional revitalization.

Furthermore, as I mentioned, I have also put efforts into tourism and the export of agricultural, forestry, and fishery products.

Before the inauguration of the Abe administration, the annual number of overseas visitors to Japan was 8.36 million, but by last year this figure had increased to 32 million. In the same way, the export of agricultural products has grown from 450 billion yen to 900 billion yen last year.

Through these efforts, last year, land prices in areas outside the major city centers—I am aware that many of you are from those areas—finally started to increase for the first time in 27 years. However, unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis has put the country in a severe situation. Nevertheless, I intend to find a way to withstand the ongoing crisis and revive tourism, especially inbound tourism. This year, we were expecting to welcome 40 million visitors, with a target of 60 million visitors by 2030. Keeping this target as it is, I intend to formulate various measures by the end of the year for achieving 60 million tourist arrivals.

When we started the Go to Travel Campaign, one of the Go to Campaigns, in July, I myself received a good deal of criticism. People suggested that it was too early to launch such a campaign. However, I made the decision to proceed—I believe that it was around July 20. As a matter of course, I have made decisions regarding the novel coronavirus, listening to the various views of experts around once a week. When I made this decision on the Go to Travel Campaign in July, it was the view of the experts that the infections do not spread by just traveling and there should be no problem at hotels or Japanese inns as long as guests refrain from speaking loudly or making noise over drinks. When I made such a decision, I also considered the situation surrounding rural areas, in addition to those views of the experts; at that time, the occupancy rate of hotels and Japanese inns stood at 20 percent. Furthermore, the tourism industry is extremely broad, encompassing a total of approximately 9 million workers, who are engaged in various jobs from operating taxis and buses, to supplying food and selling souvenirs, for example. With such people in mind, I made the decision to launch the Go to Travel Campaign. As I mentioned earlier, the cumulative total of approximately 25 million have taken advantage of this campaign, while there have been only ten cases of infection among those making use of it. We can achieve such a thing by thoroughly implementing measures to prevent the 3Cs for infection prevention; it is true that it gave us great confidence.

Local governments that were initially opposed to the campaign have given us positive feedback. Now, I believe, we have an endorsement that we do not have to feel guilty about traveling during this time. We are currently making all-out efforts to prepare a plan to raise immediate tourism demand. As I just touched upon, we intend to compile the plan by the end of the year.

On agriculture, which I touched upon earlier, the export value of agricultural, forestry and fishery products was 450 billion yen before the inauguration of the Abe administration. Last year, the eighth year of the administration, we set a target of 1 trillion yen in exports. While the actual figure was unfortunately only 900 billion yen, it still demonstrates that Japan's agricultural, forestry, and fishery products are quite popular, particularly in Asia. For your information, this year, although not many goods moved during the April to June quarter, exports in August were up 11 percent over the previous year. Therefore, I believe that this year we can achieve an overall year-on-year increase of exports of agricultural products. In particular, Don Quijote Co., Ltd., is showing remarkable success, opening multiple stores in Asia one after another. In recent years, the number of stores has more than doubled every year. While the scale of their business is currently around tens of billions of yen, their specialty stores for agricultural, forestry and fishery products are expanding at a rate of almost doubling each year. I met with the founder of Don Quijote, Mr. Yasuda, who came to the Prime Minister's Office to give a lecture. He stated that Don Quijote would assist in achieving the 1-trillion-yen export target. The global market for agricultural exports is actually 150 trillion yen; the United States exports agricultural products to the value of 15 trillion yen and the Netherlands' exports amount to 10 trillion yen. Bear in mind that the Netherlands is the size of Kyushu, but has an agricultural export volume of 10 trillion yen. In Japan, we have set targets of achieving 2 trillion yen in exports by 2025 and 5 trillion yen by 2030. By implementing such measures, we intend to restore and continue increasing inbound tourism and the export of agricultural, forestry, and fishery products, raising the revenues of people living in rural areas. The Government will make utmost efforts in these areas.

From last week to earlier this week, a typhoon approached Japan, bringing with it strong rains and winds. As a matter of fact, last year, when Typhoon No. 19 (Typhoon Hagibis) struck Japan, I saw the rain-swollen Tama and Arakawa Rivers and thought the flooding of these two rivers would have a devastating impact on millions of residents. Although that somehow never happened, the day after the typhoon, I called the director-generals in charge to my office and instructed them to list whatever measures possible in time for next year's typhoon season, or in other words, this year's typhoon season. In the end, as you are now all aware, we found that up until then there had been no advance water discharge from any dams operated by power companies, which is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and those for agricultural use under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. That was because these dams were solely used for their stipulated purpose, such as power generation and agricultural use, and nothing else. As these facts became apparent, I called on the two ministries concerned and instructed them to conclude a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) concerning the advance discharge of water from dams by the time of the typhoon season this year. As a result, it became possible to conduct such advance discharges this year. In this arrangement, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) also plays a role. According to JMA, its capabilities are precise enough to forecast the amount of rainfall up to three days in advance. From this year, we put in place a structure to minimize the damages inflicted on residents by discharging water in advance from these dams. Against this backdrop, I requested the relevant ministries to assess the capacity made available by this arrangement; we found that it is possible to discharge the volume of water which is 50 times as much as the amount that Yamba Dam (a large scale dam in Gunma Prefecture) can discharge. It took 50 years and 500 billion yen to build Yanba Dam and that is a truly ground-breaking result. This estimation only covers Class A rivers under the jurisdiction of the national government. We are currently working to include those dams under the jurisdiction of local governments in this arrangement, which will make it possible to discharge the equivalent of 57 times the volume of one Yanba Dam. As a matter of fact, it is possible to achieve many things, not to mention the dams for example, by tearing down bureaucratic sectionalism, vested interests, and the notorious habit of following past precedents.

There are many other similar cases I could raise. One of these is inbound tourism promotion, on which I have taken the lead. The MLIT and the Japan Tourism Agency as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were all eager to advance inbound tourism. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice and police authorities were opposed to such moves. It was not possible to relax visa requirements since those security authorities were against it. Of course, it is not easy even for a cabinet minister to say yes if he or she is told that visa relaxation could result in an increase of crimes committed by foreign nationals in Japan. Nevertheless, I gave instructions to relax visa requirements at least to the same level as other countries and materialized that. Consequently, the number of foreign tourists increased from 8.36 million to 32 million, while the number of criminal incidents has remained static. I wondered what all the argument was about in the first place and now I believe that there really are so many cases like this. I have already instructed Minister Kono to thoroughly review and identify them all. Based on that, I intend to correct such practices.

Last but not least, I would like to say a few words on diplomacy.

Since my appointment as Prime Minister, I have held summit telephone talks with the leaders of a dozen or so countries. Through these talks, I strongly felt that they highly regard former Prime Minister Abe's diplomacy.

When I spoke with President Trump, he was really worried about former Prime Minister Abe and asked me to convey his words of sympathy, asking whether Shinzo was really OK and saying he was a real friend. He also told me that I could contact him 24 hours a day if needed and he would always pick up the phone. President Putin of Russia was extremely concerned about former Prime Minister Abe as well, and President Xi Jinping of China also remarked on the role that Japan and China should play. The same is true of the leaders of Europe. On these phone calls, I feel that they have been fruitful. In any event, it is important to meet with such leaders directly and convey Japan's position or what Japan should say clearly. I intend to engage in diplomacy and national security in such a manner.

From the day after tomorrow, I will leave for my first overseas trip after my appointment as Prime Minister. I have chosen Viet Nam and Indonesia as the destinations. Viet Nam is the current Chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Also, needless to say, Indonesia is a key country. Both of these countries are essential to realizing a free and open Indo-Pacific. I want to firmly demonstrate, at home and overseas, that Japan will contribute to the peace and prosperity of this region.

Upon returning to Japan, the extraordinary session of the Diet will begin soon and I will give my first policy speech. To prepare for my speech, I have spent time revisiting my ideas and improving the wording many times.

I am not able to talk about the details of my speech at this time. In any case, I myself intend to boldly materialize various pledges I have made, without hesitation and never forgetting the initial aspiration when I started my career. In particular, we must shift the balance of the entire social security system, which has tended to lean towards the elderly in the past, back towards children, through support for child-rearing, including fertility treatment, which I pledged during my campaign during the LDP presidential election. I will steadily implement these initiatives and meet the expectations of the people. Now, I seem to run out of time for today's speech, so I will end here. With the pledge to make utmost efforts to move Japan forward even further, I would like to conclude my address. Thank you for your attention."